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Amy Tyler School of Dance

By Rita J. Egan

The owners of one Port Jefferson dance school will take their final bows on June 14 and 15 at their annual recital.

In October, Amy Tyler-Worrell and John Worrell, owners of Amy Tyler School of Dance, announced that the dance studio would close permanently at the end of the school year. Tyler-Worrell operated the business for 36 years.

“The hardest thing was telling the kids,” the dance teacher said.

The business owner, who has been dancing since she was 6, bought the school in 1988 from her dance teacher, Karen Fitzgerald. Two years later, she met Worrell, and in the third year of the school, he began teaching and assisting with the technical side. In 1992, they launched their annual production of The Nutcracker.

Through the years, Amy Tyler School of Dance has moved twice: once from its first location by Theatre Three in Port Jefferson to farther north on Main Street, where the cigar store is today, and finally to its current location on Reeves Road. 

The couple juggled their responsibilities at the dance studio with raising three children. All three have been involved with the studio. While 24-year-old Ryan is a dance teacher, 20-year-old Jack, a sound engineer, helps with sound and lights at the recitals. The couple’s youngest, Cassidy, 17, who has been dancing since she was 3 and performing in the recitals, will be attending Temple University this fall. Ryan will continue to teach dance at another school, according to his mother.

“Everybody’s in a transition period,” Tyler-Worrell said.

The turning point

Tyler-Worrell and her husband witnessed the business change during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the lockdowns that began in March 2020, the school offered Zoom classes for half price. Tyler-Worrell said most students took the virtual classes, and some insisted on paying full price for them.

“Some people were working from home and still earning the same salary, and some were struggling,” she said. “We tried to balance it out and make it work for everybody.”

Tyler-Worrell said that the students were happy when they could dance in the studio again.

“It was so wonderful to see,” she said. “We could have just said this is it for us. We stuck it out, and the kids really needed it at the time. I’m really glad we did it.”

However, she added that studio attendance was cut by a third after the lockdowns. When the doors opened again, many students were uncomfortable dancing with masks and in squares six feet apart. The recital that year was held virtually, and The Nutcracker performance was canceled in 2020. In 2021, the school owners had a stage built on their property and held their recitals outdoors for the last three years.

“Things didn’t go back to how they used to, and being in it for 36 years, we thought this was the time,” Tyler-Worrell said.

Lasting memories

Tyler-Worrell and her husband have countless memories due to the school, and she said the one good thing that came of the difficult decision was hearing from former students, many of whom will perform in this year’s recital.

She said several former dancers have formed longstanding friendships, attending important events in each other’s lives, such as weddings and showers.

“They’re still supporting each other into their adult life so that makes me feel really good about what we created,” she said.

Tyler-Worrell added that the teachers taught technique and the importance of community. She said that while a small percentage of students become dancers, “hopefully, the skills they learn carry them into other things.”

Sara Barasch is one of the former students who fondly remembers the school and the skills she acquired. She started dancing in kindergarten in 1988 and continued until 2001. She said there was a point when she was at the studio practically every day of the week.

“It’s the end of an era,” Barasch said, “It’s something I took for granted, because I thought it would always be there.”

She hasn’t danced much for the last 20 years, but as an agent who books clients with performing arts venues across North America, she said her experience with dance comes in handy since many clients are dance companies.

“Having the background as a dancer and knowing what it’s like physically and emotionally, it helps to provide a lot of perspective,” Barasch said. 

She added she was happy to drive from Queens to rehearsals to participate in the recital’s alumni dance, and she has kept in touch with a few of her former fellow Amy Tyler School of Dance students.

Barasch credited the school with helping her gain independence as she would go buy lunch at the local deli by herself when it was located on Main Street. Additionally, the Worrells would provide students with an opportunity to work at the front desk or help clean to earn money, and she said she cleaned at the dance school more than she did at home.

“I can’t imagine Port Jefferson without the studio,” Barasch said.

For Kai Sherman, who has taken the adult ballet class at the school for the past 10 years, she said the studio helped her become familiar with the community when she moved to Long Island at the age of 32. She added she feels fortunate to have found the Worrells.

“It’s just been amazing to have them as my ballet teachers,” she said.

Sherman is grateful that in addition to adult ballet she was able to take pointe classes at the school where she has danced with the Worrells’ daughter and other young dancers.

“To see those girls go through their high school years and to see how much they’re improving and working on dance but also their schooling, you just have these proud moments,” she said.

As the recital approaches, Sherman said, the memories won’t be sad ones.

“There are all these beautiful, wonderful memories and that’s what we’re going to take away from it,” Sherman said. “And having to end on the recital is just even better because then you’re just going out on such a high note.”

The last dance

Titled “Glorydaze,” Tyler-Worrell said this year’s recital will include songs from past years with new choreography and will feature current and former students as well as the school’s famous chase scene. After the recital being held outdoors the last few years, she said she’s pleased that it will be held in an auditorium for the last performance.

“We’re doing our final one inside at J.F.K. (Middle School) and kind of trying to go out with a bang,” Tyler-Worrell said.

Amy Tyler School of Dance’s recital will take place at John F. Kennedy Middle School, 200 Jayne Boulevard, Port Jefferson Station, on Friday, June 14, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, June 15, at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at eventbrite.com (search for school’s name) and at the door.


By Beverly C. Tyler

The end-of-year recital at the Amy Tyler School of Dance was as different for the students, parents and staff as the pandemic that caused the show to be moved outside at the rear of the studio on Reeves Road in Port Jefferson.

Tyler and her husband, John Worrell, decided to build a stage at the back of the studio property for rehearsals and the shows — and hope for the best weather.

The program, held this past weekend, was called “Broadway Rewind,” and featured the music of 11 of the Broadway shows that closed on March 12, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The show was also dedicated to the eight high school seniors who are dancing for the last time with Tyler.

Last year’s “The Nutcracker” was canceled and the 2020 recital was staged only on Zoom, so Tyler very much wanted the students to have an in-person year-end recital. Worrell, who handled not only the building of the stage but the backdrop, said he was pleased and gratified with the help he received from a number of parents and community members who pitched in to supply materials and assist in the construction.

Tyler, with the help of Emma Gutmann, undertook painting the scenery, which featured the Broadway shows “Beetlejuice,” “Ain’t Too Proud,” “Wicked,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Tina,” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” “Hamilton,” “Sing Street,” “Frozen,” “Six” and “Jagged Little Pill.”

“We were trying to figure out something that would play well on the stage,” said son Ryan Worrell, who wrote the script. “Something that addressed the pandemic in a way that wasn’t bearing down of the side of COVID, COVID, COVID. So, we decided that we would do all musicals that were open the day New York shut down. We addressed the issues of COVID-19 in the opening of the show, saying, ‘What if the pandemic didn’t happen?’ [It was] two hours of entertainment to pull you into the world where there was no pandemic.”

Comsewogue High School senior Sara Jaffie, who has been dancing at the Amy Tyler school for 14 years, said it was nice to have something normal again.

“To have this recital is really special,” she said. “Everything was canceled but school, including ‘The Nutcracker.’ I’ve been looking forward to my senior year since kindergarten — dancing on stage, doing my solo. It’s really special to have it.”

Abigail Nam, who is finishing ninth grade at Comsewogue, has been dancing with Tyler for 11 years.

“I really enjoy tap class now that I’m older and can do more skill stuff,” she said.

Her mom, Kathleen Gallant, was one of Tyler’s students starting at age 4 in 1988 for a few years.

“I wish I had stayed — I’m so glad they are able to dance this year,” she said.

When Zoom classes and limited in-person classes began this year, with all of the requirements for masks and social distancing in place, Jarek Furjanic, who has been dancing with Tyler for 11 years, said, “Now I have something to look forward to. I took more classes than normal. I like tap the best.”

He has also had speaking parts for the past four years. This year he and Marlo Pepe mimicked the opening of “That Beautiful Sound” from “Beetlejuice,” and then joined 16 company dancers in Tyler’s choreography of the song.

“It feels like family here,” said Michele Diodato, who is a speech pathologist at St. Charles Hospital. Diodato danced as a student with Tyler for 10 years until 2010. She returned as a teacher for the summer camp in 2017 and has been teaching jazz, tap and lyrical dance each school year since.

“This is my hobby, to teach what I love to kids,” she said.

Janine Ingrassia has been teaching with Tyler for 15 years.

“It’s so exciting to be back in the classroom, see them all bounce back … the resilience of the kids,” she said.

Ingrassia teaches mostly tap. She also teaches the beginning students — 3 and 4-year-olds. Before the pandemic they had just a pre-ballet demonstration for parents. This year they danced in the recital to “Let It Go” from the Broadway musical “Frozen.”

Ingrassia stood behind the audience where her six very young students could see her showing the choreography she had taught them. At the end, they received the loudest applause of the entire evening from the audience.

Each of Tyler’s teachers choreographed at least three of the 26 dances in the show with six solos and the finale choreographed by seniors.

Tyler’s daughter Cassidy, 14, has been dancing for 11 years and is very happy with this year’s changes.

“There’s lots more practice with the new stage,” she said. “Get to do a lot more skills — acrobatics, acting and interacting with more people.”

Jack Worrell, Tyler’s son, just completed his first year at SUNY Purchase studying studio production and did the sound engineering at the recital.

“Last year, with Zoom, the kids were not retaining as much of the information,” Ryan Worrell said. “In terms of health protocols, as soon as it was safe to bring them back, we did. A few kids were getting it all — most were only retaining what they had in previous years rather than experiencing any growth. When we had to announce that we weren’t going to do ‘The Nutcracker’ we had a lot who were very upset — their last ‘Nutcracker,’ or their first, or their first on pointe wasn’t going to happen. Last year with the recital on Zoom we didn’t see the kids give it the heart and soul we usually see with them in person. Once they get on stage it changes. There’s something that happens on stage that you don’t see in the [dance] classroom.”

The result this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday early evenings was two hours of delightful music and dance — and no one enjoyed it more than the students who were transported into a world where, for a brief moment, the pandemic of the past 15 months ceased to exist.

Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society. He is also Amy Tyler’s father.

Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director at Theatre Three, won't be playing the role of Scrooge in-person this season. Photo by Julianne Mosher

By Julianne Mosher

Local theatergoers are saying “Bah Humbug” this Christmas because two of their favorite traditions will not be happening.

During the holiday season, families would gather to watch Scrooge confront the ghosts of his past, present and future. In another venue, little children would admire ballerinas in white tutus up on their toes. The Rat King would clash with the Nutcracker.

But because of the COVID-19 crisis, two staples in the Village of Port Jefferson’s art community — Theatre Three’s “A Christmas Carol” and Harbor Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” — have been canceled, leaving these two nonprofits hoping for a brighter 2021.

Jeffrey Sanzel, in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, is working on a new virtual play, ‘A Carol for Christmas.’ Photo by Julianne Mosher

According to Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director at Theatre Three, between 12,000-15,000 Long Islanders have viewed their production of “A Christmas Carol” over the last 35 years.  Sanzel has portrayed the role of Ebenezer Scrooge 1,437 times. “This is the first time in 33 years I’m not doing a stage production of ‘A Christmas Carol,’” he said. “It’s a shame, but I don’t want to do anything to exacerbate the problem.”

In a pre-COVID world, the theater would run the show six days a week with anywhere from 50 to 60 performances per year. Around 30 local actors would take on multiple roles of Charles Dickens’ characters.

After speaking with the village, he and Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant considered an outdoor, socially distanced performance of the treasured production. Sanzel said they had it all figured out; it was going to be four 15-minute shows — a smaller adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” — with a minimal cast, at Harborfront Park.

“I got a cast. We went into rehearsal, and then the governor’s office told [the mayor], ‘No,’” he said.

Three weeks ago, the village received word from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office that they were not allowed to host an event outside that could draw a crowd. “I was all for it, and the actors were all set,” he said. “We were right down to discussing what they need to wear under the costumes when it’s below zero outside, socially distanced, in face shields.”

So, it was back to the drawing board. Sanzel and his team decided to create a free, virtual performance that will be filming this week. Titled “A Carol for This Christmas,” it will be available for viewing on Facebook, Vimeo and the theater’s website (www.theatrethree.com) in mid-December

“In a period of two days, I cast it, wrote it and went into rehearsal again,” he said. The 45-minute film will be set in a closed theater and features six actors playing the many roles in the story. The actors will be filmed socially distanced, in various parts of the theater, while wearing masks.

Sanzel said this would be the theater’s gift for the community. “This will be our contribution,” he said. “The actors have all donated their services because they’re just happy to be doing something.” He hopes that this event will keep the theater’s name alive and bring attention to an industry that is struggling hard throughout this crisis. “We want people to know that we understand what’s going on in the world,” he said.

This weekend would’ve marked the Port Jefferson Charles Dickens Festival’s 25th anniversary, an event that always kept Theatre Three busy. The announcement of its cancellation this year is devastating for the community, said Sanzel. “The Dickens Festival brings people into the village,” he said. “It’s a great weekend, and even if people aren’t seeing the show, they become aware of the show and buy tickets for the future.”

Amy Tyler
Worrell had to cancel the Harbor Ballet Theatre’s ‘The Nutcracker’ this year. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Amy Tyler Worrell, who owns Amy Tyler School of Dance up the hill on Reeves Road with her husband John, agreed. “People who are coming to town can go out to dinner in Port Jeff and then come see ‘The Nutcracker’ or go shopping,” she said. “Being able to go out to ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’ gets people excited.”

Worrell’s studio is celebrating its 33rd year in the Port Jefferson community. Within the school is the couple’s nonprofit, Harbor Ballet Theatre, which puts on ‘The Nutcracker’ at the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School during the Dickens Festival. This would have been their 29th year.

“My family — my parents, my husband, my kids — all helped out with it,” she said. “But there are a lot of other families here who had the same experience. It’s kind of a letdown for them.”

When COVID-19 began in March, the studio needed to shut its doors and move to online classes via Zoom. They couldn’t hold their annual recital in June in-person, resulting in doing it online. During the summer, they found out they couldn’t hold their ballet in-person this December.

“The families say this kicks off their holiday season,” she said. “Some of the parents are in the show, some help backstage.”

And while ‘The Nutcracker’ is a family affair, it’s also a growing experience that students won’t be able to participate in this year. “We had seniors this year who have done the show since they were little angels,” she said. “It’s rough.”

In a pre-pandemic world, the dancers would audition in the late summer. Every weekend they’d rehearse for the big show. “I think what the kids are missing is being together and building something together,” she said.

Although things might look a little different for the arts this season, the hope is that the traditions will continue on next year.

“I think ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a story that resonates with audiences; from a six or seven-year-old, who comes for the wonder of the story … to a teenager who sees the frustration of the characters, to adults who look at their own lives and hope,” Sanzel said. “I guess the bottom line is when people look at the story and see that Scrooge can change and be better, so can we.”